Part A: IMPROVISATION IN THE HUMOROUS SKIT
Background: Jesse B. Simple
Jesse B. Simple, the birth child of Langston Hughes, is a character who graced the pages of the 1940’s
Crisis, Opportunity, Defender, New York Post
newspapers. He lived in the magnificent city of Harlem, New York. The Simple stories were so popular that they eventually filled volumes with their humor and blues. Books, radio, television and musical comedy stage—all eventually were places that allowed the common man to transform the ugliness of defeat and despair into an optimistic conviction, a song of survival, a train moving forward.
Although Simple stories deal with the Negro’s jobs, play, churches, and relationships; the paradoxes of America’s racial double standard; and various elements of being poor, they are timeless and have universal appeal. Through the years, the humor is still effective as are the social issues poignant. This duality allows readers to both laugh and cry as one relates to the Black “Everyman” Simple. It is this element of “
laughing to keep from crying
” or laughing and crying through the gray areas of life that makes the stories as valid as the blues. Furthermore, as David Littlejohn states in his
Black on White: A Critical Survey of Writing By American Negroes
, his (Hughes’) tone has that intimate, elusive, near tragic, near-comic sound of the Negro blues. On Hughes’ theme(s), Littlejohn writes, “his theme is not so much white oppression, as the Negro’s quiet resistant to it. (Nowhere about Simple is there the mark of oppression). His writings typify (and probably support) the famous and useful myth of Negro endurance—the knowing grin, half-smile-half smirk, of the bowing but unbeaten” (Littlejohn, 147).
Employed skillfully in the Simple stories are elements of satire, irony, and paradox. Of Hughes’ narrative technique, Phillis Klotman submits that it consists of 1) skit technique, 2) simple development of theme and character 3) reader identification, and 4) the intermittent sound of the blues in prose. Hughes is said not to write fiction with Simple; instead, he is described as telling a story. As Hughes tells the story of blacks in Harlem, he uses a skit format involving primarily a narrator, Boyd, and Simple. The two are stand-up comics that play against each other. Simple is not formally educated, but he is witty, while Boyd appears to be educated. As with all blues, its content has to do with staring adversity in the face while maintaining a survivalist sensibility. Hughes accomplishes blues mastery as Simple rises above despair, with his passion for life, laughter, and language. Skit themes vary and can be grouped into the following categories women; race; Africa and black pride; social issues; and political issues. Readers can identify with the themes and the characters while facing the harsh realities of America’s ‘ism’s’ with an ear of laughter. The blues in Simple can be heard in the mastery of language: black southern dialect and the latest hip Harlem expressions and folk idioms. Its fast paced dialogue moves quickly like the passing trains about which blues artists sang.